PHOENIX (AP) — A Border Patrol agent in Arizona sent texts calling immigrants "savages" and "subhuman" the month before using his patrol vehicle to knock over a Guatemalan man who was trying to flee, prosecutors say.
Court documents filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Tucson say Agent Matthew Bowen sent the text messages in November 2017, weeks before he's accused of intentionally striking the man with a truck. The man was hospitalized with abrasions to his right hand and knees.
Federal prosecutors say the messages show Bowen's disdain for immigrants and restrictions on what measures he said agents are allowed to take to apprehend border crossers who run away.
Criminal charges against Border Patrol agents over assaults on migrants are relatively unusual, with most cases focused on officers' involvement in crimes such as drug smuggling or lying on job applications.
Bowen goes on trial Aug. 13 on charges of depriving the Guatemalan migrant of his rights under the color of law and falsifying records after the Dec. 3, 2017, incident in Nogales, Arizona. He has pleaded not guilty.
The agent employed "deadly force against a person who was running away from him and posed no threat," prosecutors said in the filing.
The federal court documents show that Bowen fought unsuccessfully to suppress the messages, which were among 1,300 texts the government was legally obligated to provide under a search warrant.
One text Bowen sent to a fellow agent reads, "mindless murdering savages. PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!"
Another text about migrants who threw rocks at agents, causing one officer to fall and suffer a gash to his arm, called them "subhuman" and "unworthy of being kindling for a fire."
Defense attorney Sean Chapman declined to comment on the charges Monday. Chapman also represented Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz, who was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in November in the shooting death of a Mexican teen who was throwing rocks at agents.
One of Bowen's texts was to Swartz, referring to striking the Guatemalan man as a "human pit maneuver," a reference to a technique that officers use to stop fleeing vehicles. It calls for using a patrol vehicle to apply lateral pressure to the back of a fleeing vehicle so it spins out and stops.
The Border Patrol said the agency was drafting a statement in response to a request for comment.
Prosecutors say the texts show Bowen's frame of mind at the time of the assault and that they contradict his later insistence that didn't know he had hit the man and had struck him unintentionally.
A sworn affidavit by a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General said a border camera operator in Nogales first spotted the Guatemalan man after he apparently jumped the fence near the Mariposa port of entry, according to the Arizona Daily Star, a Tucson newspaper that first reported on the texts.
The special agent said the man ran toward a gas station. One officer told him to surrender, but he ran toward the border and Bowen "accelerated aggressively," knocked him down and "came to a full stop within inches of running (him) over."
Bowen says in a text that to the camera operator, "it looked like I could have run him over from that angle" and "now it ll prob be an investigation for 2 years."
Bowen is accused of making false statements both in his initial report and in a subsequent memo to the chief patrol agent of the Tucson Sector, saying "he never intended to strike, scare or otherwise come into contact" with the man.